News Roundup and Notes: April 17, 2014

Before the start of business, Just Security provides a curated summary of up-to-the-minute developments at home and abroad. Here’s today’s news.

Ukraine

Speaking in a televised show today, Russian President Vladimir Putin has admitted that Russian armed forces had been deployed in Crimea [New York Times’ David M. Herszenhorn]. Putin also emphasized Russia’s historical claim to eastern Ukraine, stating that his parliament’s upper chamber has authorized the use of military force in the region if necessary. The Wall Street Journal (Lukas I. Alpert and Andrey Ostroukh) and Washington Post (Kathy Lally) also cover Putin’s address.

In the latest developments, pro-Russian separatists have attacked a Ukrainian base, with three separatists killed in the clashes, while Ukrainian, Russian and Western leaders arrived in Geneva for diplomatic talks on the crisis [Reuters’ Aleksandar Vasovic]. The Washington Post (David Nakamura and Karen DeYoung) reports that U.S. officials have “low expectations” of today’s diplomatic meetings.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced yesterday that the alliance will be implementing “further military measures to reinforce [its] collective defense and demonstrate the strength of Allied solidarity” in response to the Ukraine crisis. Rasmussen said NATO “will have more planes in the air, more ships on the water, and more readiness on the land.”

U.S. officials say that the administration is “close to authorizing a limited shipment of nonlethal supplies to Ukrainian forces, including medicine and clothes,” reports the Wall Street Journal (Adam Entous).

White House press secretary Jay Carney confirmed yesterday that the administration has “additional sanctions prepared and … will impose them as appropriate” [The Hill’s Justin Sink]. The New York Times (David M. Herszenhorn) reports that Russia’s economy “worsens even before [new] sanctions” are imposed.

In an interview with Major Garrett (CBS News), President Obama said Russia “is not interested in military confrontation with [the U.S.].” Obama also warned of “consequences” for further Russian actions destabilizing Ukraine, while accusing Russia of supporting “non-state militias” in southern and eastern Ukraine. Meanwhile, Russian Ambassador to the EU Vladimir Chizhov told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that “Russia has no plans to intervene militarily, no plans to invade anybody – not Ukraine, not any other country” and said that “[h]ysteria is becoming contagious.”

Politico’s Philip Ewing covers how “business seems to continue as usual” in Washington, even while military operations continue “in the worst standoff between Russia and the West since the end of the Cold War.” The Wall Street Journal (Carol E. Lee and Colleen McCain Nelson) reports how the crisis has “scrambled the world map around which Barack Obama shaped his foreign-policy doctrine and stand[s] to alter the arc of his presidency.”

The Daily Beast’s Leslie H. Gelb writes that “[f]oremost, [CIA Director John Brennan’s Kiev] trip was conceived as a message to Putin—that he should start contemplating the unhappy possibility that a Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine might well face a guerrilla war like the nightmarish one that drained Soviet forces in Afghanistan decades ago.”

According to the founder of Russian Facebook, VK, the Russian government used social media to spy on Ukrainian protestors [The Verge’s Russell Brandom].

As debate and analysis continue, the Washington Post editorial argues that the “Obama administration’s attempt to smooth the way for a diplomatic solution has virtually ensured that the Geneva meeting will fail.” The editorial board writes, “U.S. sanctions on Russia over Ukraine would buy negotiating power.” The Economist warns that while “[t]he cost of stopping the Russian bear now is high … it will only get higher if the West does nothing.” It calls for broader sanctions and “more devastating punishment.”

In an op-ed in the Washington Post, Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S. Olexander Motsyk calls for “global support” in stopping Russian-deployed forces and protecting the Ukrainian people. And the Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Henninger is critical of how “the historic implications of Russia’s re-subjugation of Ukraine seems to be largely an abstraction to the current president of the United States.”

Surveillance

A U.S. federal appeals court has rejected an appeal of contempt of court findings against the email provider, Lavabit, which reportedly provided services to Edward Snowden [Politico’s Josh Gerstein]. Check out Just Security’s Jennifer Granick’s post on the development.

The New York Times editorial welcomes the NYPD’s decision to disband its “indefensible program of spying on law-abiding Muslims,” noting the decision is an “important step toward restoring trust” in the police department. Meanwhile, The Daily Beast (Michael Daly) is reporting that the NYPD “will continue spying in the Muslim community … as part of an ongoing counter-terrorism effort that includes the use of undercovers and confidential informants.”

Syria

The Syrian opposition has accused the government of new chemical weapons attacks on civilians using improvised chlorine gas bombs, and have posted several videos online [Al Jazeera].

The Washington Post (Karen DeYoung) reports on the videos showing Syrian opposition fighters using U.S.-made antitank missiles. While U.S. officials have declined to discuss the origins of the weapons, the report notes that “[t]heir appearance in Syria coincides with a U.S. commitment this year to escalate a CIA-run program to supply and train vetted ‘moderate’ rebel groups .”

Facebook has taken down the page of a radical Australian cleric who was using social media to encourage western jihadists in Syria, following media reports of an academic study into the role of social media in Syria’s civil war [The Guardian’s Shiv Malik and Michael Safi].

Homs, “once dubbed the capital of the revolution,” is close to falling completely to the regime as the Syrian army steps up its assault in the city, reports the Washington Post’s Loveday Morris.

Jordanian military warplanes struck a convoy of vehicles attempting to enter Jordan from neighboring Syria yesterday, “in an unusual move at a time of tensions between the desert kingdom and Damascus” [Associated Press]. A Syrian military official denied the vehicles belonged to the Syrian army.

Afghanistan

Confidential U.S. assessments obtained by the Washington Times (Guy Taylor) show that Afghanistan is ill prepared to govern after U.S. withdrawal, due to “critical” gaps in knowledge and risks of corruption.

The Taliban kidnapped a group of Afghan policemen yesterday, and subsequently announced they had killed seven officers [New York Times’ Azam Ahmed and Rod Nordland].

Israel-Palestine

At yesterday’s negotiations, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told the Israeli team he is willing to extend peace talks for another nine months, provided the first three months focus on the borders of the Palestinian state, all Israeli settlement activity is halted, and the fourth group of prisoners is released [Haaretz’s Barak Ravid et al.] The negotiations are due to continue today.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal (Joshua Mitnick) covers “the latest sign of rising religious tension” as riots broke out at a “Jerusalem holy site with Palestinians hurling rocks at Israeli police who fired tear gas and stun grenades.”

And Richard Falk, the UN Special Rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territories, explores why “Palestinian hopes for a just peace should never have rested on the outcome of formal diplomacy” [Al Jazeera America]. Rather, Falk argues, “the best Palestinian prospect is by way of pressures exerted through a movement from below, combining popular resistance with global solidarity.”

Other developments

In an interview with McClatchy (James Rosen), the CIA’s former top lawyer, John Rizzo disputes the Senate Intelligence Committee’s findings, and denies that the agency misled the Bush administration, Congress, and the public about its interrogations tactics. Rizzo said the Justice Department was informed of those agency employees or contractors who were overzealous in using the interrogation methods.

The Rolling Stone (Vivian Salama) covers “how American drone strikes are devastating Yemen,” with “[s]ymptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, trauma and anxiety … becoming rampant in the different corners of the country where drones are active.”

Prosecutors will start outlining their case against radical clerk Abu Hamza al-Masri in New York today, who is facing 11 terrorism charges, including providing support to al-Qaeda and attempting to set up an al-Qaeda training camp in Oregon [BBC].

Hayes Brown reports on the “latest setback” in the military trial of the 9/11 conspirators  “that has lasted years beyond what it would in a civilian setting” [ThinkProgress].

A Pentagon report on the estimated sequestration impacts finds that the cuts would leave the military too small, and the U.S. “would be gambling that [its] military will not be required to respond to multiple major contingencies at the same time.”

Secrecy News (Steven Aftergood) reports that the State Department will be publishing a volume of declassified documents later this year, providing an account of the CIA’s role in the 1953 covert action that helped overthrow the government of Iran.

The Washington Post (David Nakamura) covers how President Obama “aims to reinvigorate [his] Asia strategy” during his travels to the region next week, after his failed bid to focus U.S. attention on Asia has resulted in “a loss of confidence among some U.S. allies.”

The Pakistani Taliban announced it would not extend its 40-day ceasefire with the government, accusing the government of killing more than 50 Taliban fighters and carrying out numerous arrests and raids [Dawn]. The group said it would continue dialogue with the government, provided there was “clear progress” on its demands of a demilitarized peace zone and the release of non-combatants.

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

Former Associate Editor at Just Security Follow her on Twitter (@RParekh88).